A new oilfield in North Sea would blow the UK’s carbon budget

Analysis has shown that a single new North Sea oil and gas field would be sufficient to surpass the UK’s carbon budgets. This is because the government, despite its legally binding commitment to net zero, considers expanding fossil fuels.

Rosebank, the largest undeveloped North Sea oilfield, has the potential to produce 500m barrels of oil. It has cleared many regulatory hurdles and a decision about its future may be made soon.

Uplift’s analysis has shown that oil production from the field will likely result in more emissions than the UK’s carbon budgets.

If the Rosebank field is allowed to proceed, it would also mean that other sectors of the economy will have to reduce their emissions faster and further to allow the UK to remain within its carbon budgets.

These findings raise more questions about the government’s plans for oil and gas development despite repeated pleas from scientists, the UN and others to stop new licences. Ministers are currently in the middle of a new licensing round to oil and gas in North Sea. This is expected to go on despite the UN’s pleas for halting new licences. On Thursday, the government’s energy security plan and net zero strategies were revealed. They total more than 1,000 pages. These documents contain a significant gamble on carbon capture-and-storage (CCS) technology. The government will provide PS20bn in support over 20 years and ministers stated that this would allow for continued use of fossil fuels.

However, scientists informed the Observer that using CCS in such a way was a risky gamble and that restraining any new oil and gas development was a safer option to achieve the net zero commitment.

The Rosebank field will be developed by Equinor, a Norwegian state-owned energy company. It is three times larger than the Cambo field which was the focus of intense campaigning prior to being paused last January.

According to Equinor analysis, Rosebank’s activities alone will produce 5.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. This is not counting the emissions from burning oil and gas.

This, combined with the emissions from existing oil and natural gas fields, would make it more than the amount of carbon that the UK should allow to come from its oil and gas sector.

If Rosebank were to count its likely emissions, its oil and gas production would be about 8% higher than its theoretical contribution to the UK’s fifth-carbon budget (2028-2032), and about 17% above its share to the sixth carbon budget (2033-2037).

Although the carbon budget is not divided into emitting sectors in a formal manner, the Committee on Climate Change has guidelines that suggest that different sectors should keep within a range of limits. This means that the UK’s carbon budgets for oil and gas should only account for 4%. They run for five years and are currently set to 2037.

Tessa Khan is the executive director of Uplift. She stated: “This analysis clearly demonstrates what the government long knew but chose to ignore: That it is impossible for the UK to reconcile approbating a new huge oilfield like Rosebank with its climate obligations.”

She mentioned that the development could qualify for PS3.57bn tax breaks under windfall tax. This tax gives companies incentives to invest in higher oil and gas production.

“Ministers also understand that approval of Rosebank will not lower UK fuel bills or increase UK energy security, as most of the reserves will be exported. Rosebank fails at every level, even legally.

Shadow secretary for climate and net Zero at Labour, Ed Miliband said that after the disastrous failure of “green day”, it was clear that the Conservatives would never be able to meet Britain’s energy requirements or create the jobs of the future. The idea that they are going to spend billions on new fossil fuel exploration proves that they will shamelessly waste money on climate vandalism. It is obvious that Rosebank, which will not cut our bills as the government admits, is not a solution to our energy security and would drive a coach with horses through our climate commitments.At the launch of the government’s Powering Up Britain strategy, Grant Shapps, secretary-of-state for energy security, net zero, stated that Rosebank is “not on my desk”.

He supported the continued licensing oil and gas, in spite of a plea from 700 scientists last week for Britain to stop new development and the urging by Antonio Guterres (UN secretary general), for countries to abandon fossil fuel development to reach net zero by 2040.

A spokesperson for the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero stated that they are on track to deliver their carbon budgets, creating investment and jobs across the UK and reducing emissions. Our carbon budget delivery plan, a long-term dynamic plan that will see us to transition over the next 15 year, is on track to achieve net zero by 2050.